Cry-Baby (1990)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

USA, 1990, . Screenplay by John Waters. Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

The success of Hairspray took John Waters into the mainstream, thanks in no small part to its treating his usual concern with suburban bourgeois hypocrisy with much softer mechanisms than had been employed in his more provocative earlier features. He followed it with his most ambitious project yet (and, more or less, to date), a big budget musical that pays tribute to bad Elvis movies and even worse teen rebel exploitation flicks of yesteryear, infusing them with the same level of unhinged sincerity that makes those films so simultaneously corny and endearing.

fills in beautifully for the King as a “juvenile delinquent” known as Cry Baby, his ability to let one gorgeous glycerin tear fall ever so elegantly from his eye marking him as a soulful dreamboat to the ladies who encounter him. He falls in love with a girl from the right side of the tracks, a “square” played by , but their love affair is thwarted by her even more square boyfriend (, son of Norman) and the concern of her protective grandmother ().

Fine, upstanding citizens are always corrupt hypocrites in Waters’ films and this one is no exception, for while the delinquent (i.e. working class) members of the community throw warm and welcoming parties kept alive by a jumping jukebox, the folks who are supposedly representing Eisenhower’s America properly are bullies who vandalize their neighbours every chance they get, but suffer no consequences for it. Cry Baby ends up in prison because of his enemies’ cruelty, but thankfully his soul-stirring singing voice (which Depp lip-synchs quite badly in all his numbers) is going to be the key to getting his freedom and his girl.

The flimsy plot is easily forgiven considering that it makes about as much sense as the films it is paying tribute to, but with all the impressive effort being made here (the choreography, song score, gorgeous costumes, etc) this one doesn’t have the heart that makes Hairspray such a treat. Everyone’s having a good time, but you can’t put any of their pleasure in your pocket and take it home the way you did last time, and something about Depp and Locane’s pairing doesn’t go beyond the surface images that they are lampooning.

The cast is made up of the usual combination that Waters enjoys in his films, including his regulars (, , ), respected character actors rocking out (), former teen idols good-naturedly taking pot shots at themselves () and members of the underground going legit (, and Hearst again).


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